After an Olympic career as a synchronised swimmer, the pool became associated with nerves for Francesca Owen. Entering the water yet again, this time with a camera and without precise routines, her creativity ran free — unfolding into serene photographs of her peers floating underwater with creative freedom of their own.
Could you share a bit about your background as a synchronised swimmer and how you transitioned to becoming an underwater fine art photographer?
I first started Synchronised Swimming when I was eight, which led me to a competitive level and to be selected onto the team at the 2012 Olympics. After the Olympics, I was capturing a lot of weddings but knew I was missing being in the water and that creative space I was so familiar with. I decided to purchase an underwater film camera to do some test shoots with my close friends and ex teammates and it grew from there. I purchased my first underwater housing unit for my digital SLR and the passion grew for me taking photographs beneath the surface.
You’ve spent a lot of your life underwater and now your photography is centred around it. Was this because it’s where you feel most comfortable, or an intentional creative decision?
To be honest, it was more of a healing process for me initially. After coming home from the Olympics I felt an unfulfilled desire. Water and being in a pool actually held quite a lot of nerves for me — so it was a journey for me to look at the pool in a different light — to being a space of self expression and creativity. When I look back, it seems clear to me two of my passions were running side by side for many years, I just didn’t make that connection until, when I believe, the timing was right.
What does your creative process look like?
My creative process always starts with an emotional experience I’ve had in the past, or currently experiencing. Having studied Photojournalism, I like to try to tell a story through my images and evoke emotion. I’m very fortunate I’m surrounded with beautiful muses and friends I used to swim with. Once I have a concept in mind, I share it with the model and the rest flows quite naturally. On the day of the shoot, I allow the model to move in a way they interpret my story — to give them some form of self expression also. I feel this is where a lot of the magic happens. With my background in Synchronised Swimming, it gives me the ability to know when to hit the shutter, and watch the beauty unfold in front of me.
“Being a creative and following your passion will always be challenging, but with that comes great reward. I guess the most important thing I’ve learned is, spend most of your time looking inward, not outwards.”
How would you describe your relationship to your creative work?
I’ve begun to realise, like any good relationship in life you can’t force it, but you must tend to it. I know I’m most creative when I’m in tune with my feelings, feeling inspired and looking after myself. This is when I can give more to my work and my creative self.
Your Ladies in Waiting series was inspired by the 2012 London Olympics, could you share a little bit more about what this series means to you?
This series drew a lot from my personal experience and emotions prior to when I was leaving for the 2012 Olympics. I wanted to give a lens to these athletes and space for them to express their own unique emotions through movement. Synchronised Swimming is all about precise routines where everyone has to be on the same count, aiming for the perfect score. I wanted the opposite, it was all about the beauty of imperfection and the spaces in between. I wanted each member to highlight themselves and their talent separately. At times, like life in 2020/21, life is unsynchronised. In some way, we’re all Ladies in Waiting.
Are you drawn to photographing on land?
I will always love photographing on land, however, I do always feel something’s missing. To me, photographing underwater makes me feel free. It’s so unique and I count myself lucky to have grown in this element, and know there’s plenty more space to grow.
What draws you to water in a personal and creative sense?
Definitely my experience with it being a Synchronised Swimmer from a young age. I love the performance aspect I used to feel with it, which I draw inspiration from while working with my camera.
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
Nature itself. It’s currently Spring and I’m loving the smell of Jasmine and seeing the Jacarandas blossom. I’m constantly inspired by artists I follow on Instagram, and there will always be the greats like Peter Lindbergh for example, but saying that, I am trying to find inspiration in the smaller things as of late.
An artist’s path is mostly uncharted. Do you have any insights for emerging artists on maintaining a belief in their practice even as doubts or unhelpful messaging from the outside world arise?
Being a creative and following your passion will always be challenging, but with that comes great reward. I guess the most important thing I’ve learned is, spend most of your time looking inward, not outwards. Looking at what others are doing too much and their work will open the door for self doubt to creep in. Keep true to what keeps a spark alive in you — after all no one else can make you happy at doing your job — do it for yourself and then your work will speak for itself.
What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
Knowing others feel something from looking at my images. That’s the greatest part. There’s so much emotion that goes into creating my work and to feel that someone else gets a sense of vulnerability or escapism when viewing it, makes it all worthwhile.
What are you working on currently?
I am currently working on a few series at the moment, my mind is always wandering. One concept is merging both of my landscape imagery and my underwater imagery together, I played around with this concept previously called my ‘Skyward’ series, but want to develop this more; focusing more on the Australian landscape. I am also drawing inspiration from my recent time in Paris for another concept, highlighting and focusing more on the elegance and the ‘show time’ element of my work, it will be fun!
If you were to nominate an artist for us to interview, who would it be?
Johanna Piettre Hermes. She’s a French embroiderer, her work is quirky, fun and elegant.